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Building Strong Brand Tribes (Inspired by Presenters at SXSW)

Jen Herbert, Senior Strategist at AMP

 

I haven’t been to Disney World since I was eight, but this year I was fortunate enough to go to South by Southwest (SXSW), which I have now dubbed “Disneyland for Adults.” When I wasn’t busy presenting with the rest of the fierce AMP team for our participation in   YouTube’s SXSW Creative Agency Challenge, or being distracted by the puppies at the Amazon Prime activation and the endless CBD-related samples at the wellness expo, I promise I was putting on my Brand Strategist hat and attending a wealth of panels and keynotes with my colleague and SXSW partner-in-crime, Andie, AMP’s Director of Business Development.  


The best part was listening to speakers with such diversity in perspective, and realizing that all of these accomplished individuals offered a unique method for building and strengthening a brand tribe: through social impact, play, internal creativity, and centering the customer experience around a singular emotional benefit.


While we’ve been hearing about “brand community” for some time, “brand tribe” is a relatively new term in Marketing, yet it’s important because it denotes a much deeper relationship between brand and customer. While a member of a brand community need only participate on occasion, perhaps via a purchase or a ‘like’ on Instagram, a member of a brand tribe wholly believes in that brand. Connection with that brand becomes an outward expression of one’s identity to the rest of the world. Brand tribe members wear merchandise, create user-generated Social content, join loyalty programs, go on auto-pay plans, and, perhaps most importantly, recruit others to join the tribe too.


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Building A Brand Tribe Through Social Impact


Study after study has proven that in 2019, consumers want to back brands that share their values and create a positive change in the world. That being said, brands can’t talk at customers about the good they’re doing; they need to work with their customers to spread good together. As panelists during How Brands Can Engage the Social Impact Generation outlined, social impact must be participatory.


One panelist, Viveka Hulyalkar, Co-Founder and CEO of Beam, has developed a customer engagement platform that partners with a given company, say, a fast-casual salad stand. The salad company decides how much they’re willing to donate per purchase and a cause they would like to support, such as third world female education. Customers can then log into the app to track how each salad purchased gets them closer to buying a textbook for a young girl. Another panelist, Helena Hounsel, Social Media Manager at Brandless, offered an example of how a brand tribe of activists can be built on Social: “Rather than spending International Women’s Day showing how your company volunteered at a women’s nonprofit, why don’t you instead ask your audience which women are inspiring them this holiday?”


By rallying around causes that your brand and your customers share a passion for, and then providing a platform for your customers to become ambassadors for the cause, your social impact becomes experiential and your brand tribe becomes united around a higher purpose.


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Building A Brand Tribe Through Play


All work and no play makes a brand’s tribe very dull. IBM’s Dr. John Cohn reminded us of that in his session, Prioritizing Play in an Automated Age, where he outlined how making room to play can smooth the bumps during life’s tough disruptions. During the talk, Dr. Cohn told us about play projects of his, like an 18-foot tall animatronic pumpkin man as well as an art car built for Burning Man. He recounted how droves of people, some of whom then became his fellow creators, were drawn to his projects while they were being built and shown off to the world.


In other words, play can help you find your brand tribe, in a very “if you build it, they will come” kind of way. Through your bravery to look silly and/or fail, and your willingness to surrender to wonder for no reason other through indulging curiosity, your brand will show its authenticity and customers who identity a similar raison d’être in themselves will be drawn to you naturally.


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Sure, you might be saying, A wacky scientist from IBM can have a little fun, but how can brands? Let’s not forget this Southwest flight attendant who transformed the safety demonstration into a burlesque performance, or KFC apologizing for running out of chicken with an on-the-nose newspaper ad featuring its carton respelt as FCK.


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Building A Brand Tribe Through Internal Creativity


It is often hard for brands to prioritize looking inward, to their own company culture and values, when there are always so many externally-focused tasks to complete. The beloved bakery Milk Bar, however, is proof that the spirit of brands that cultivate internal creativity will always shine through and be felt externally by customers.

 

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During Innovation in Pursuit of the Unexpected, Christina Tosi, cookie-baker extraordinaire and company founder, along with her agency partner, Michael Greenblatt of REDSCOUT, reflected on how the Milk Bar brand toolkit is a toolkit in the truest sense of the word. Through the codified system of the color palette, off-kilter logo placement, branded pastry box tape, and decorative stamps, Milk Bar employees at locations around the country are encouraged to leverage their creativity to use the tools as they’d wish. For example, the Milk Bar team suggested designing the delivery truck to look like it was covered in the Milk Bar tape; others use the logo and colors to bedazzle denim jackets and beanies that they wear to work.


This DIY spirit has created a tribe of Milk Bar devotees. Because employees are welcome to live and breathe the brand uniquely, customers also view the brand as a living and breathing thing to interact with–for example by holding up a cup of “cereal milk” soft serve to a pretty background for the perfect Instagram, or by decorating their laptop in Milk Bar stickers.


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Building A Brand Tribe Through Creation of “Brand Feeling”


Lastly, it’s easy to get bogged down in lifting brand metrics. Yet during Following the Feeling: Creating Brand Value, Columbia University lecturer Kai Wright argues that the most important brand metric is how you make others feel. After all, Wright noted, humans make 95% of our daily decisions on “auto-pilot,” rather than weighing pros and cons in order to choose the best and most rational choice, with emotions influencing nearly 70% of our decision-making.


He cited brands who have expertly structured their brand “LAVEC”– lexicon, audio cues, visual stimuli, experience, and culture– around a singular brand feeling. Take Disney, whose feeling of “happiness” is supported by audio cues like fireworks and visual stimuli like wearing the iconic mouse ears, or Gatorade, whose feeling of “endurance” is brought to life through the lexicon of calling its products “fuel.”


If a customer can rely on your brand not just for great products or services, but for a guaranteed emotional experience, your brand tribe is then powered by the strength of shared human connection.

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Google Search Trends Insights July 2020

In our continuing series of examining Google Search Trends to gain insights into the top keywords queried in the USA, we present our findings for July 2020. Every day, we capture the top three keyword phrases in terms of search volume as reported by Google Trends (US Only). Each term has an estimated query volume attached to it, which we also record. The number scale tops out at 10,000,000+ with a lower limit of 200,000+. After the conclusion of the month, we look at the phrases we collected along with their volumes to get an understanding of what drove queries for the month. July 2020 Overview Last month, as we predicted, we saw an increase in sports-related terms making the daily top 3 queries across the month.  As the major sports leagues resumed live games, search interest grew around general phrases about the leagues and players in the leagues. The Fourth of July drew people to search for information about the holiday along with the name of a competitive eater, which over the past two years has been a top searched keyword phrase on July 4th. Lastly, there was an uptick in technology terms, driven wholly by news related to TikTok. Top Keyword Searches  Here’s a rundown of the top searched keywords in July 2020. There were 6 phrases that drove over 10 million queries as reported by Google Trends: Fourth of July - 7/3/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Naya Rivera - 7/8/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries John Travolta - 7/12/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Naya Rivera - 7/13/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Dilhan Eryurt - 7/19/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Pacita Abad - 7/30/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Three of the phrases (Fourth of July, Dilhan Eryurt, and Pacita Abad) were driven by clicks on a Google Doodle. The remaining queries are associated with celebrity deaths (although it is curious that “John Travolta” was reported as the top query on July 12th even though it was news of Kelly Preston’s death that drove the query volume). While we don’t typically report on keywords related to celebrity deaths, we saw an uptick in 10 million+ queried keywords last month, with six in July 2020 and just one in June 2020. July Holidays  Outside of the big Fourth of July holiday, there were other holidays that cracked the daily top 3 last month: 4th of July - 7/4/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries National Tequila Day - 7/24/2020 - 200,000+ queries National Girlfriends Day - 7/31/2020 - 500,000+ queries With many Fourth of July events cancelled because of the pandemic, we theorized the search volume would not be as high on the holiday name this year. We pulled this chart to learn more: The data backed up our notion – the search volume for this phrase was at its lowest volume when compared to the last 5 years. One traditional brand event that is connected to the Fourth is Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. The event’s name may not drive top 3 keyword level queries for the day, but for the last 2 years, one of the contestants has. Joey Chestnut - 7/4/2020 - 500,000+ queries Joey Chestnut won the contest in 2019 and 2020, and looking at the chart for the last 5 years, the query volume peak occurred in 2018. Will future generations refer to things being “as American as baseball, apple pie, and Joey Chestnut”? Potentially. Another holiday we have been tracking trends over the past two years for is National Tequila Day. With alcohol sales up over the past few months, we thought that we would see a big jump in query volume this year. Coincidentally, like Joey Chestnut, the query volume peak occurred in July 2018. We theorize that the popularity of these lesser known holidays are dependent on brand promotions. It does show there is opportunity for brands to own relevant, lesser-known holidays with the proper strategy. The final holiday of our July collection is National Girlfriends Day. Although Google Trends reported the phrase in its top 3 on July 31st, the actual holiday happens on August 1st. The holiday did not make the top 3 in 2019, but it appears the popularity of the phrase has hit a peak in 2020. Sometimes when we look at the charts, we will see “echos” that are attached to a different date. When we look into the data further, in the case of holidays, it may be that another English speaking country celebrates the same holiday on a different date. For instance, the UK celebrates Mother’s Day in March rather than in May like the USA. In this instance, the echoes we see in the chart above are related to National Boyfriends Day (October 3rd). It appears that on Oct. 3rd, there is a spike in queries related to “National Girlfriends Day”. Let’s take a look at the trends from last year. As you can see in 2019, there was more search volume for the phrase “National Girlfriends Day” during the week of National Boyfriends Day than during the week of National Girlfriends Day. You can draw your own conclusions, but we think there are some users who are wondering if there is a corresponding holiday to the Boyfriend one.  Live Sports Are Back and So Are The Queries Of the 93 queries we recorded for July 2020, 17 of them were related to sports (18 if you count Joey Chestnut - competitive eating is a sport). Here’s the rundown of the most popular ones: NBA - 7/30/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Joe Kelly - 7/28/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Patrick Mahomes - 7/6/2020 -1,000,000+ queries Washington Redskins - 7/12/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Seattle Kraken -7/23/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Washington Redskins - 7/16/2020 - 500,000+ queries MLB - 7/27/2020 -500,000+ queries The NBA resumed play on the 30th and people want to know more. Joe Kelly, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, may have thrown at some Astros hitters intentionally. The NFL had a couple of top keywords: Patrick Mahomes signed a big contract and the Washington Redskins announced they are going to think about – and then later confirmed – they were changing their name. Seattle has a new hockey team – the Kraken – and will join the NHL in the 2021-2022 season. Lastly, MLB started their season, but looking at the numbers, it’s clear there wasn’t as much interest as the NBA.  With live games resuming, sports-related queries are up. What we haven’t seen yet, which was common before the pandemic, were game-related queries; i.e. ‘team vs. team” queries. We may see those as the leagues continue to play. TikTok TikTok hit the headlines a number of times in July. There was a glitch that happened on the 8th where TikToks were shown without likes or views in the U.S. and the U.K for a time that drove queries. The other top keywords were driven by users seeking information about the platform’s ban in the USA.  TikTok ban - 7/31/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries TikTok - 7/7/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries TikTok - 7/8/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries TikTok Banned in US - 7/8/2020 - 500,000+ queries Beyond being a short video social media platform, it’s also an advertising platform that AMP Agency’s clients are using for their media buys. Our media team is keeping a close eye on the developments with TikTok and have started plans for media budget reinvestment options for the clients live on platform right now. Thanks for reading. If you liked this article, we invite you to learn more about our SEO services,  Until next month.

What DTCs Are Missing As They Open Physical Stores

Benjamin Y. Seldin,  Strategy Director In the years leading up to the current pandemic, Casper, the bedding brand, was in the midst of opening 200 stores across North America. It was among a number of direct-to-consumer companies (“DTCs”) opening physical stores at a rapid pace. While these brands are likely now reconsidering expansion plans, this trend will not disappear. DTCs experience awareness and a surge in online sales in markets where they open a physical location. From the design of their stores to the purposes they serve, I’ve noticed commonalities in how DTCs treat brick and mortar. And I’ve wondered: does their digital origin produce a particular approach toward physical stores? So, right before the pandemic, I journeyed through a bunch of them, most of which are recent additions to Boston, to investigate.  I found most share an emphasis on product demonstration and prime location – as well as a shortage of personality. It’s like they applied their focus on user experience in the digital space to the physical one. But that strategy is fading in digital, and it is in real life too. So in the following, I’ll identify how DTCs are missing personality as they enter brick and mortar and offer suggestions for improvement and greater opportunity.   Let’s look at some examples We’ll begin outside the DTC world with Filson, the heritage clothing brand that started in 1897. In speaking with a sales rep there, I learned that before the company opened a store in Boston’s gleaming new Seaport District, Alex Carleton, its Chief Creative Officer, took time scouring New England for unique antiques to fit Filson’s rugged, hip American aesthetic. The result is a quirky space with a larger-than-life wooden bear at the entrance that both greets and frightens customers, and dressing rooms that could be guest rooms at the Ace Hotel.  When compared to Away, the DTC retailer that later opened next door, Filson’s store contrasts greatly. Away is sparse, efficient, and transactional. It mainly encourages customers to test its flagship product, a well-designed suitcase. Similarly, the shoe brand Allbirds, famous for using wool, features wool swaths to touch and detailed explanations of the material’s benefits. Indochino, a menswear company, displays a wall of fabric swaths to exhibit color and variety. For these DTCs, product demonstration is paramount.   Location, location, location Like the real estate adage says, location is also a big factor. Many of the DTCs I visited are in Boston’s Seaport District. Maggie Smith, head of marketing at the neighborhood’s developer explained, “co-tenancy continues to be a main part of the conversation…there’s a transition going on, from brands wanting to know traditional real estate metrics to those that are more consumer-driven; [before moving in] they want to know the social clout of the place itself.” In normal times, the Seaport District bolsters its social clout with pop-up villages including rows of local retailers. The pop-ups benefit from the legitimacy of the larger players, and the larger stores enjoy the freshness of the pop-ups.    Single products DTC stores are often built around single products. This approach can feel contemporary in the online world but incomplete in the physical one, where even brands using the showroom model (with just a few sizes for each item) still offer a full line. Casper understands the value of a full line and expanded a while back from a single mattress to a spread of sleep-related products that fill its brick-and-mortars. It went even further as it recently prepared for IPO, attempting to become “the Nike of sleep.” It assembled a “sleep advisory board” and instituted internal policies to rally around quality sleep. While it faced an uphill battle in a competitive environment, this was the right play, albeit a bit late in the game.   Advice and opportunities for DTC brands If you’re a DTC using this period to plan brick and mortar expansion, here are some ideas. Pick your moment. If you don’t yet have a full product line, consider a pop-up store in a choice location first. Let personality lead design. Dig into what makes your brand’s personality unique and reflect it in design. If your brand doesn’t have much personality, start by developing one. Connect product to personality. Even functional elements should convey personality. Consider how Apple’s genius bar took what historically was a routine service and made it a branded centerpiece that embodies the brand’s charisma. Think big and small. What makes Filson’s Seaport store impressive isn’t just the things you first see like the big bear. It’s the details like dressing room fixtures and antiques that unveil themselves the more time you spend in the store. If product-first DTC’s aspire to last over a century like Filson has, they should use brick and mortar to help us get to know them and not just their products. Personality signals a company’s identity and purpose. It also helps foster customer relationships, which will be key in weathering this storm and others ahead. To learn more about how personality grows brands, click here.

Google Search Trends Insights June 2020

In our continuing series of examining Google Search Trends to gain insights into the top keywords queried in the USA, we present our findings for June 2020. Every day, we capture the top three keyword phrases in terms of search volume as reported by Google Trends (US Only). Each term has an estimated query volume attached to it, which we also record. The number scale tops out at 10,000,000+ with a lower limit of 200,000+. After the conclusion of the month, we look at the phrases we collected along with their volumes to get an understanding of what drove queries for the month. June 2020 Overview June 2020 was another month where keywords related to a current event news story. Of the 90 phrases we captured over the month, a third of them were news-related. Before the pandemic, the most popular keyword category was “sports”. In June, there were a few sports-related terms that we will examine later on in the article. Beyond news keywords, we saw a few holidays drive users to search as well as a few gaming-related phrases specifically related to PlayStation 5 or PS5. Here are our takes on the keywords driving the most queries in June 2020. Google Doodle The keyword that drove the most queries last month was connected to a Google Doodle. Marsha P. Johnson - 6/29/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Quoting from the Doodle Page, the illustration featured “LGBTQ+ rights activist, performer, and self-identified drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, who is widely credited as one of the pioneers of the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States.” The timing of the Doodle was to commemorate the one year anniversary of Marsha being posthumously honored as a grand marshal of the New York City Pride March.  Google publishing this Doodle during Pride Month inspired us to view the 5-year trend for this phrase. Based on this graph, the search interest is continuing to grow for Pride Month, although the biggest jump occurred between 2018 and 2019. We believe that marketers should be aware of the increasing interest and align campaigns accordingly and authentically. June Holidays  Last month had a few holidays that drove users to Google to search for more information. There were three on our list that we wanted to analyze further to understand the year-over-year trends: National Best Friends Day - 6/8/2020 - 500,000+ queries Juneteenth - 6/18/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries Happy Father's Day - 6/21/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries The first holiday that cracked the top 3 most queried terms of the day was National Best Friends Day that brands like Starbucks and ProFlowers have used in ad campaigns. This year, the search interest for this lighthearted, social-media-friendly holiday hit a new peak. The volume isn’t large for this holiday as compared to other, more established holidays but it has been trending up over the past three years. It could be considered for content calendar planning for 2021. With the protests for racial equality and justice being in the forefront of peoples’ minds over the past six weeks, it makes sense there would be a very large increase in search volume around the holiday of Juneteenth: Looking at Google search trends data from 2004 to present, you can see that this year may have been a watershed moment for this holiday – and we may see more governments recognize it as an official holiday.   Lastly, Father’s Day had its top query day on the 21st. Father’s Day-related keywords also made the top 3 for the days of June 19 (Happy Father's Day - 1,000,000+ queries) and June 20 (Father’s Day message - 500,000+ queries). This year appeared to be a down year for queries related to this holiday as the peak occurred in 2017. Just remember, if there is any debate about which parent is more popular, check the data before you take a position. A Few Keywords Related To Sports In pre-pandemic days, most of the searches we collected were sports related but now they are a minor category of keywords. Here are the most queried phrases related to sports in June 2020: Drew Brees - 6/3/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Bubba Wallace - 6/21/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Cam Newton - 6/28/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Searchers were interested in what Drew Brees had to say in terms of other players kneeling during the National Anthem before games.  Bubba Wallace, who is a NASCAR driver, may have been the victim of a hate crime. Lastly, Cam Newton became a top searched sports-related query when he signed with the New England Patriots. It’s telling that without live games, sports queries have decreased over the past three months. With the major professional leagues set to resume play in July and August, it will be interesting to see if sports-related terms drive users to search like they did earlier in the year. Marketers should keep a close eye on sports keyword volume if live games resume. PlayStation 5 Is a Big Deal Sony revealed many details about their new gaming console and many people choose to learn more about it. PS5 - 6/10/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries PS5 Price - 6/11/2020 -2,000,000+ queries We have seen gaming become more popular as a keyword category over the months we have collected data. It seems the pandemic has driven more interest in gaming topics.  Marketers should be aware of this growing trend and see if it continues to grow at the same rate in 2021. Thanks for reading. Until next month.